How do I teach my 5 year old to respect other children's boundaries?

Q: How do I teach my 5 year old to keep his hands to himself and respect other children's boundaries? He is a very affectionate only child and often gives too many hugs or puts his hands on other children too much. He is not aggressive just gets excited about being with his friends and likes to touch them or get too close to them. He is very tactile.

A: Dear kebrown1004:

You describe your son's behavior very well! What you are saying is that your son, simulated by his enthusiasm to be involved with other children, is very impulsive and concrete in his expressions of eager friendliness. This is not too unusual, particularly in boys of his age.

Solving this problem would appear to be mostly a question of the maturation of his nervous system and his social skills. You can tell him a thousand times to "keep your hands to yourself, please!" and he can still have a great deal of trouble inhibiting his outburst of affection or translating it into more socially acceptible behavior in the moment. So, while it is likely to help (somewhat!) to try to explain to your son a more diplomatic way of interacting with other children, it may be slow going. He may intellectually understand what you are trying to teach him pretty well, but be unable to put this wisdom to practical use when he is over-excited. You may be successful by trying to replace one concrete physical gesture with another--try to get your son to "shake hands" rather than hug or pat other kids all over the place. Be patient and try to help him "think ahead" to what other folks might be feeling in response to his gestures. Being kind, constructive, and patient with him will work best.

Elizabeth Berger MD

Child Psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character"


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